I’ve always been fascinated by the bright, colourful and noisy Chinese New Year celebrations. I remember standing on the seventh floor of Macy’s in San Francisco a few years ago, my nose practically pressed to the window, watching the amazing parade below. I’d never seen or heard anything like it in real life before. I’m not really into horoscopes of any kind but I know I’m a snake (I may just have given my age away there) and my husband is a horse. Apparently snakes and horses are not a very good match. After twenty-six wonderful years together, I can’t say I agree with that! However I’m into anything that celebrates joy, good fortune and happiness and Chinese New Year is definitely that.
I like to prepare a Chinese dish for my family on Chinese New Year, just to get into the spirit of things, and Sweet and Sour Chicken has always been one of my family’s favourites. I personally was always less enthusiastic about this traditional dish because I found the flavour was often way too intense. I was also worried about the nearly fluorescent colour of many of the prepared sweet and sour sauces and the long, unpronounceable ingredients list on the jars. So I decided to do some research and develop a recipe of my own. That was over five years ago and today, this is the only Sweet and Sour dish that is served in our house. I’ve blogged this recipe before but it’s such a family favourite I wanted to bring it back on this very appropriate day!
My version of Sweet and Sour Chicken has all the flavour and spice of the original without the day-glo colour and the artificial taste. Although I wouldn’t classify anything with half a cup of jam in it as ‘healthy’, this is a healthier version of the traditional recipe – and I figure all those yummy veggies have to make up for the sugar in the jam. It’s certainly less sugar than is in many of the prepared sauces you will find in the supermarket and some restaurants.
It may seem strange to bake the chicken instead of stir frying it but I honestly think it keeps the chicken more moist. It’s just so easy to overcook thin strips of poultry and I can’t stand stringy over-cooked bits of chicken in a stir fry. Also the whole breasts of chicken take up the flavour of the seasoned flour coating more thoroughly and lead to a better tasting dish.
If you’ve never used root ginger before, don’t let it scare you. If you peel it immediately after you buy it and pop it in the freezer, you can peel it straight from frozen. It lends a gorgeous flavour to this dish but if you find yourself without it you can use the dried ginger you use in baking as a substitute. I’d use about a half a teaspoon of the dried variety to replace the fresh if you have to. I promise you though, it is worth buying fresh ginger for the wonderful flavour it gives.
Despite my slightly unorthodox cooking method for this dish, it still only takes thirty to forty minutes to pull together and the flavour is worth every moment of effort. I hope your family enjoys this dish as much as mine does and that it becomes part of your Chinese New Year celebrations too!
- 1 cup long grain rice
- 4 chicken breasts, skin removed
- 2 tablespoons sesame oil or other vegetable oil
- 2 tablespoons flour
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- ¼ teaspoon pepper
- ½ cup apricot or peach jam or preserves
- 2 tablespoons cider vinegar
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
- 3 carrots, peeled and thinly sliced
- 1 cup baby corn
- 1 cup snow peas (mange tout)
- ½ cup scallions (spring onions), thinly sliced
- ½ cup cashews
- Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C or 180°C for fan ovens).
- Line a baking sheet with foil and brush with a couple teaspoons of the oil.
- Mix the flour, paprika and pepper together in a large bowl or ziplock bag.
- Dredge the chicken breasts in the flour mixture, shake them off and place on the baking sheet.
- Bake (without turning) for 25 to 30 minutes or until the chicken breasts are thoroughly cook through and no pink remains inside. (I use a meat thermometer to be sure the chicken is cooked to at least 165°F as per safety guidelines.)
- Meanwhile, about 15 minutes before the chicken is done, cook the rice in boiling, salted water according to package directions. When the rice is cooked, drain it and keep it warm.
- Also while the chicken is cooking, mix together the jam, cider vinegar, soy sauce and ginger to make the sweet and sour sauce. Set aside.
- Heat the remaining oil in a large frying pan or wok over medium to high heat.
- Stir fry the carrots, peppers and baby corn for 3 to 5 minutes or until tender crisp.
- When the chicken is fully cooked, remove it from the oven and carefully cut it into thin slices. Be careful, the chicken will be very hot.
- Cover the chicken and keep it warm.
- Add the snow peas and scallions to the vegetable mixture in the frying pan or wok together with the sweet and sour sauce you made earlier.
- Stir fry for a minute or two.
- Add the cooked chicken and cashews, stir to coat with the sweet and sour sauce and warm through.
- Serve the Sweet and Sour Chicken on a bed of rice.
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